Sometimes it’s not clear if Black Monday wants to be an irreverent comedy or a soap opera. The late-’80s Showtime logo and music that introduce each episode feel like an announcement that this show isn’t going to take itself too seriously. That the first episode began and ended with a robot butler delivering cocaine didn’t hurt, either, even if that gag was totally copied from GLOW. At the same time, the series is structured as a whodunit, and that opening shot of a man falling to his gruesome death is played not as farce, but as thriller-tinged tragedy.
In the second episode, that tonal blend feels somewhat smoother than in the first. The episode is anchored by a visit from a screenwriter, Grant (Paul Rust), who’s shadowing Mo as research for a film he’s working on: “Untitled Oliver Stone Wall Street Project.” (In reality, Wall Street came out in December 1987; we’re still roughly a year away from the October ’87 crash, so the timing is somewhat plausible.) According to Grant, the movie will be an “authentic” story of a black man trying to break into the boy’s club. Heh. Right.
Mo’s talking slick about how you gotta stay one step ahead when he walks into his office to find Blair handing out gifts of Georgina Jeans apparel to the staff and announcing that it’s no big deal; his fiancée’s family owns the company. The entire staff now knows Mo’s secret, which means Dawn knows, which means Mo’s about to get a dose of reality. “Plan?” she reams him out when they’re alone in his office. “It’s more like a felony with a bunch of dumb luck.” She’s right; Mo’s plan — and, really, the show’s plot — depends on a whole lot of coincidences and a flimsy assumption that Mo will somehow be able to convince Blair to hand over his shares of Georgina once he’s married Tiff. “I thought we stopped having sex when I dumped your ass, but somehow you’re still fucking me,” Dawn throws at Mo. Then she quits.
From there, writer Jessi Klein deftly weaves together the episode’s subplots. While Dawn fucks off to a department store, Keith attempts to prank Blair on his first day by sending him to fill an order with their broker, Fat Fred. Really, he just gives Blair a slip of paper with the words “I’M FAT” written on it, which Fred will inevitably shout onto the floor. This backfires spectacularly when Ty Daverman, the Morgan Stanley VP who tried to poach Blair in the first episode, intercepts and kindly offers to put the order in for him — one million shares of Federal Allied Titanium (or, “IMFAT”). Now the company is out 4 million bucks, and, as Ty explains to Blair, someone must have shorted the stock they just bought and are now desperate to sell.
That’s where Dawn comes in. Traders Wayne and Yassir can’t get rid of the stock fast enough, and decide they need to unload it all on one big client at once. But the only trader with big enough clients is Dawn, who is on the verge of having a Pretty Woman moment with the department store’s clueless white saleswomen. Wayne and Yassir have to tell Mo to get Dawn back, but they can’t do it in front of Grant, so they record their message on a tape and hand it to Mo in a Walkman, explaining that it’s a new Run-DMC track he just has to hear.
Mo bops his head dutifully as he listens to the tape, then takes off to get his head trader back. Finding her in the department store, he offers to buy her whatever she wants as an apology. What she wants is a piece of the company she helped build. Mo’s too stubborn to accept, so he brings in one of Dawn’s clients himself and makes his pitch. The client says he’s in, as long as Dawn agrees it’s a smart buy. She arrives just as Mo’s leaving her a voicemail, and the two proceed to fuck each other.
First, Dawn tells her client she doesn’t think he should buy the FAT shares; she and Mo step outside his office to negotiate her return, and when Mo sees the department-store saleswomen arriving with Dawn’s clothes, he quickly ushers her back into his office. When the saleswomen deliver the clothes, Mo questions how Dawn could’ve crunched all those numbers if she was out having a shopping spree. They go back and forth like this until finally Mo agrees to give her 15 percent of the company.
It’s a great story, Grant tells Mo at the end of the day — “but not for me and Oliver.” He does, however, think Dawn’s story might give inspiration to Mike Nichols, who’s also working on a movie about Wall Street called Working Girl. Cue “Let the River Run,” the song Carly Simon wrote for Working Girl, which Dawn listens to on her Walkman on her way home. (Never mind that Working Girl didn’t come out until 1988 and “Let the River Run” was released as a single in 1989; the show seems to relish these occasional anachronisms, especially if they add a dose of irony.) Flush with her triumph, Dawn comes home, pops the tape into the stereo, and straddles her doctor boyfriend. Suddenly the music stops, and we hear the message Wayne and Yassir made for Mo; Dawn chuckles, until they mention her and Mo’s “will-they-won’t-they sexual tension” — and out the two as exes. Well, you can’t have a thriving personal and professional life, can you?
Isn’t That the Kind of Tortured-Hero Shit You Guys Jack Off To?
• Maybe the reason this episode was an improvement on the first was simply that it featured more Regina Hall. Her first line of the episode was *chef’s kiss*: “Hey Mo, you’re never gonna believe this. Georgina Jeans” — the camera cuts to Blair — “takes three years off of my ass, look at that!”
• Mo had a couple zingers, too. To Grant: “Let me tell you about the time I got into a bidding war with Emilio Estevez over a Basqi-Yacht, which is a yacht entirely muralized by Jean-Michel.” To Dawn: “You get off on the rollercoaster. Like that time you got off on a rollercoaster.”
• “Here’s our menu binder … of prostitutes,” Wayne tells Blair, showing him around the office. “We call them ’tutes,” says Ronnie. “Makes it less sad.” Blair refuses both the coke and the “tutes,” explaining, “I’m engaged and also a good person.” Feels like a pretty safe bet that before too long he’ll take a crack at one or the other. So far, Black Monday has avoided going full-Wolf of Wall Street; no gratuitous sex scenes involving hired ladies, for example, and surprisingly few coke-fueled antics. But that can’t possibly last, can it?